Voting Machines (copy)

The sticker price for peace of mind doesn’t come cheaply.

But a lack of public confidence in the outcome of the 2020 election would cost us more. A lot more.

So, we applaud the Guilford County Board of Elections for choosing a paper-ballot system to replace touchscreen machines in the coming presidential election. In a sense, the new process will take voters a step back into the future; they will fill out paper ballots with pens.

The new system was chosen over another, less costly alternative that would provide touchscreens and a written record of votes both in writing and with a bar code. That technology, offered by the same vendor, had encountered opposition from the NAACP and others out of a concern that the bar code could be misread. The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine also has urged that elections use paper ballots that can be inspected and recounted by human beings.

Security breaches in U.S. elections are a clear and present danger. According to a U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee report, Russians have tried to hack election voting systems in all 50 states during the 2016 election and are expected to keep trying.

And, as the News & Record’s Taft Wireback reported last week, the new paper ballot system will be deployed in municipal elections in several communities in Guilford County, including High Point, on Nov. 5.

The vote to shift to paper ballots was a narrow one, 3-2, along partisan lines. The two dissenting Republicans on the board contended that the bar code option, called Express Vote, would accomplish the same goals for less money. But as board Elections Board Chairman Horace “Jim” Kimel, a Democrat, correctly noted, “It seems as though the public has lost confidence in bar codes and would prefer hand-marked ballots. From a public perception standpoint, that seems to be a valid request.”

There’s no question that the new system will be a radical departure from the current one that will bring with it some heavy lifting for elections staff in Guilford County. But it should pay dividends over the long run.

In other business, the board also split, 3-2, along party lines, in approving an early voting site on the campus of N.C. A&T for the 2020 primaries. The A&T site, and one at UNCG, were among six new early voting sites added in Guilford County, bringing the total to 15.

Some may question the added expense, as Elections Board member Kathryn Lindley did. She protests too much. (How dare anyone make voting easier.) After attempts by Republicans in recent years to limit early voting and to make voting less convenient for students, the expansion is welcome news.

As for those who believe students shouldn’t vote in local elections because they may be temporary residents in Guilford County, for now, this is their home. They pay taxes here. They are affected by the decisions local elected boards make. And they are typically here for four years, often longer, in pursuit of undergraduate and graduate degrees. That equates to one Greensboro City Council term, two terms for state legislators and two terms for members of the U.S. House.

Of all the worries in the world, one of them shouldn’t be that young people want to vote.

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